Harvest Veggies in Early Morning

When I was a child and stayed with my grandparents my enduring recollections of waking up was to hear the old cockrell crowing with a shrill, manic urgency, soon followed by the sounds of my grandmother bustling out to the garden.  She would take her basket and a sharp knife to harvest the day’s vegetables before the sun got too high in the sky.

Harvesting Silverbeet

Silverbeet can provide on-going harvest supplies – just break off the leaves at stem base.

My child mind didn’t question it until I grew my own vegetables and then found out that they take up the maximum moisture during the cool of the night and are therefore at their best for cutting at first light.

Cabbage harvest

This cabbage harvest will keep two families happy for weeks

I tried it and it is true.  Greens in particular will have plump and crisp leaves which will keep longer in the fridge and taste better when cooked.  Beans, peas, courgettes, cucumbers, peppers – in fact the whole gamut of home veggie bed produce will all be better for a dawn harvest.

Another lesson I’ve learned from the practice of gardening is to always harvest vegetables before they go to seed – even if that means cutting more than you can consume immediately.

Cling film wrapping cabbage

Wrapping freshly harvested veggies in cling film will help keep them fresh for weeks in the fridge

Once a plant has ‘gone over’ or gone to seed it is wasted, but a plant that is harvested fresh at dawn and wrapped in cling film will last a long time in the crisper drawer of the fridge, so why not?  Its better than wasting all that good growing you have so carefully nurtured.

Pak Choi – Power Greens

Pak-Choi

Brassica rapa chinensis, otherwise known as Pak Choi, Bok Choy or Chinese Cabbage has to be one of the best ‘quick grow greens’ to raise in your veggie patch.

 In Australia’s warm climate it tends to grow quite quickly, especially on the east coast where the combination of warm days and nights along with summer rains has the seedlings literally sprouting up overnight to produce crisp and nutritious crops that are a delight steamed or flash cooked in a stir fry.

Pak-Choi

Its best to keep an on-going supply of seedlings to plant out as these brassicas don’t last long at optimum size/condition in your garden before going to seed, especially when the weather is warm.  When you harvest them keep them in the crisper drawer of the fridge but no longer than about three to four days or they’ll go limp.

The stems tend to take a little longer to cook than the green parts of the leaves so boil or steam the stalks first for two to three minutes then toss in the leave for the last two.

Like all brassicas they provide plenty of good dietary fibre to aid digestion and are loaded minerals and vitamins like Thiamin, Niacin, Phosphorus, Vitamin A,  C,  K, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese.

But Pak Choi also contains powerful antioxidants and phyto-nutrients which help destroy free radicals to protect cells and reduce inflammation.

All this and its easy to grow – therefore clearly deserves the title of ‘Power Greens’.

Savoy – King of Cabbages

I had an old packet of Savoy Cabbage seeds that had gone a few years out of date but couldn’t bring myself to throw them out without giving them one last chance at life.    The germination rate wasn’t good but half a dozen seedlings emerged that seemed strong and healthy so they were dutifully planted out in to the veggie patch in early spring.

Savoy cabbage

Savoy cabbage – distinctive crinkly leaves

Not everything went to plan but I did end up discovering a great new recipe.

#1. These are large headed cabbages so they need to be spaced wider apart than a regular Sugarloaf Cabbage – I’d say that an extra 20 centimetres all round would be good.

#2. If you don’t give them space then the restricted airflow will encourage disease and pests.  In this case it was cabbage aphids which hide in the folds close to the stem and in the underside crinkles so are not easy to spot.  When I eventually discovered the cause of the brown leaf edges I gave the plants a good blast with a water jet which dislodged around half of the infestation then sprayed twice with Confidor – ensuring it got into all the tiny crevices.

Cabbage aphid

Cabbage aphid – Brevicoryne brassicae

They soon regained some vigour and hearted up nicely, so as this was my first time with Savoys I needed a recipe to try out and found this in an old (falling apart and faded) cookbook of my mum’s, circa. 1929

#3. Cabbage Rolls: (an cooked Eastern European version of the Chinese dish San Chow Bow)

(First of all I washed the cabbage heads thoroughly in running water and individually washed each leaf as it was broken off from the stem.  This is good practice for any harvested vegetable that has been previously sprayed with chemicals.)

Drop some cabbage leaves into boiling water for 2-3 mins to soften them up and remove the stiff stem part of the leaf.

Mix minced beef and sausage meat with a chopped onion, add salt and pepper, a dollop or two of tomato puree and one egg then mix thoroughly with your hands.  Then shape a handful into small sausage shapes and roll into the cabbage leaf which should now be soft enough to stay closed after wrapping.  If not then secure with a cocktail stick.

Cabbage rolls

Cabbage rolls – Eastern European dish full of goodness

Place into a skillet and cover with a can of tomato soup then let simmer for 30-40 mins.  (an alternative is to simmer in a little beef or chicken stock instead of the tomato soup – less oomphf, but still very tasty).

Author: Bob Saunders (www.gardensonline.com.au)